About Schmidt Movie Review
Jack Nicholson, it has to be said, does the whole wide-eyed, crazy routine very well indeed (see The Shining, Anger Management or Batman). But About Schmidt reminds us that Nicholson does understated even better, in this languid comedy-drama that harks back to the golden era of the 1970s when mainstream cinema wasnít afraid to approach important themes like alienation from society and the elusive search for meaning in existence.
Nicholson plays Walter Schmidt, a stoic and serious-minded fellow who finds himself confronting the essential redundancy of his life when he retires from a virtual lifetime working for an insurance company. Swiftly made to feel irrelevant by the firmís patronising replacement, Schmidtís life is thrown into further disarray when his wife suddenly dies one afternoon. Propelled by a sudden need to make use of what little time he has left, Schmidt boards the luxury motor home he bought with his late wife, and heads across the country to stop his daughter marrying a man he deems to be a total idiot.
Amusingly narrated through Schmidtís letters to an African child he starts to sponsor, not a lot actually happens in the film but thereís a nice sense of leisurely soul-searching that recalls The Straight Story or, in its own way, even Easy Rider (except with the elderly seen as outcasts here rather than the young). Itís refreshing to see a movie that doesnít rely on the Bruckheimer school of rapid cuts, Election helmer Payne mostly employing long lingering shots, increasing the sense of Schmidtís isolation from the world around him as well as letting every awkward exchange from a character linger to often hilarious effect (particularly whenever Randall, Schmidtís daughterís wannabe-entrepreneur boyfriend, appears).
Schmidt is potentially a cold character, spartan with words and frugal with money. Yet Nicholsonís wonderful performance makes him both appealing and compelling, every line of regret showing on his face as he contemplates a society that no longer has a use for him. Itís not the usual showy Hollywood drama performance, but a brilliantly subtle one that conveys a whole manís life in every minute detail, and is up there with some of Nicholsonís very best roles.
Schmidtís outlook on the world also seems a lot more genuine than the characters that surround him who mostly speak in a manner of insincere platitudes and loveless interactions. The filmís early shots of Schmidt disconnected from a world of soulless skyscrapers and his wifeís iron-clad rules give way to the freedom of open roads and a host of new colourful characters. Of these characters, Kathy Bates is particularly fun in her Oscar-nominated performance as a self-consciously Ďfree spirití whose liberal nudity and unabashed speaking her mind is in stark contrast to Schmidtís reserved outlook.
About Schmidt doesnít have any Ďbig scenesí as such, but is packed with oddly affecting moments such as the wedding speech and the haunting final scene. The film doesnít try to answer all the questions it raises about the crushing disappointments of life, but itís subtle, moving and frequently hilarious. One of those movies you just know will be remembered for a very long time to come.